A strange girl is couch-surfing in Katy and Paul's house. But this girl is not leaving, and what's more she is obsessed with feathers and wings and the end of the world. Katy is starting to think she is not what she seems.
Paul came home and I had the wings on. They weren’t finished, a lot of the coat-hanger was still bald. They were like skeleton fingers.
‘Get those things off you, she’ll have a fit.’
‘Mildred’s not here,’ I say.
I can’t get them over my shoulder, the elastic is caught in my hair - elastic that went missing from my pyjama pants a week ago.
‘They look retarded.’
‘We don’t say retarded, Paul.’
He sighs, pulls at the wings with his thumbs, pinches my skin and leaves a reddening welt. I hear the cracking of the feathers separating, and wonder for a second if I’m about to fly.
‘God, did I just hear a tear? Did I break them?’
I don’t answer him, because suddenly he’s succeeded in removing them and they’re lying on the floor like the birds you see with their insides all over the road.
Paul looks around in case Mildred really is here. I hear him plod off to check the bedrooms, then he comes back and stares at the couch, but she wasn’t sitting on there before and she hasn’t appeared since he did a loop of the house.
‘You must have seen her leave, she never goes far.’
‘I didn’t get home till four am.’ I tidy my hair, knowing it’s standing up in places, but unable to flatten it. ‘I’m allowed to sleep.’
He hums, and checks his watch, flicks on the tv.
‘Don’t,’ I say. ‘I’m not in the mood.’
He ignores me, and I stand there, watching him while he flicks channels and stays on the news. He doesn’t seem to be paying it much attention, because he turns to snap at me.
‘Will you put those things away?’
I can’t bring myself to touch the feathers again, despite the fact that they were perched on my shoulders just before. I feel like they’ve died in the moments since.
‘She’ll be back, she wouldn’t leave the wings.’
‘They’re a bunch of feathers stuck to a couple of our coat-hangers, Katy.’
I realise that I don’t care what he says. I listen to the person on the TV while Paul talks some more, and focus on a story about street violence outside some King Street bar.
Mildred waits until we are sleeping, or Paul is. I’m lying next to him as he gives out large, choked breaths, then tiny squeaks through his clogged up nose. Allergies. But he’d never admit it because he loves the dog. The keys we gave Mildred make a noise, and she lets the door knock against the wall of the front hall. I can’t hear her feet, because she’s too quiet and because Paul’s breathing too close to my ears. But I know she’s there. I push the blankets on my side up and pad out, don’t worry about being quiet because Paul never hears a single noise at night, not freight trucks or dogs or people screaming Lady Gaga at a party across the road.
‘Katy.’ Mildred sees me, doesn’t quite whisper, let’s some of her voice through. ‘Sorry.’
‘I was awake already, where were you?’
She looks down at her bags, and I see more feathers, it looks like she’s killed a flock of birds, the amount she has. ‘It took forever to get.’
‘Paul wants you to go,’ I say. She looks at me like she doesn’t understand, and I think it’s because I’m too quiet, but she still looks uncomprehending when I repeat it louder.
‘Why isn’t he telling me then?’
I look past her, but I can’t see her wings, I wonder where she’s hidden them this time. Why she hides them.
‘Don’t you have to get back home?’ I ask. ‘I mean, maybe it’s better if you did, Paul – he doesn’t like having people stay in our house.’
‘But he invited me.’
‘I know,’ I don’t argue, don’t add anything to sway her into thinking he’s a nice guy, that he’s just weird and shy. And she doesn’t seem to want it, just nods and starts taking out the feathers from her plastic bag, laying them onto the couch and the floor. Everywhere. She doesn’t even wait for me to go before she drags out the wings from behind the couch cushions, doesn’t seem to even notice they were touched, or is too polite to say so. She gets out her tube of glue and begins.
‘What are they even for?’
‘If you don’t know,’ she says. ‘I can’t tell you.’
I let out an annoyed grunt, and sit on the nearest chair free of feathers. It’s oddly nice watching her at work, and my head slides back into the cushions after a while. Finally I get to sleep.